Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Judicial Elections Reform Bill Advances in Senate
Judge Hammock Tells Solons Current Law Permits ‘Shenanigans and Gamesmanship’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Superior Court Judge
A bill that would bar creative ballot designations in judicial races—such as “Child Molestation Prosecutor”—surmounted its initial hurdle yesterday, passing the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Elections by a vote of 4-1.
Next Tuesday, it will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill, SB235, is being carried by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and is sponsored by the Conference of California Bar Associations (“CCBA”), the successor to the State Bar Conference of Delegates. It is endorsed by the California Judges Association (“CJA”), the Alliance of California Judges, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the Los Angeles Times and the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, as well as several individuals.
At yesterday’s hearing, Allen told colleagues that judicial candidates are “using increasingly hyperbolic titles” and that the aim of the bill is to render voters “less manipulated.”
He said he concurs with criticisms of a proviso in the bill requiring that “part-time” holders of government law positions be so designated. That portion, the senator said, will be eliminated.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock, speaking as an individual, urged a favorable vote. He said the law, as it stands, is “too vague and too ambiguous and it allows for…shenanigans and gamesmanship.”
Hammock recited that in 2010, then-Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wanted to use the ballot designation of “Los Angeles Prosecutor” in the race for district attorney, but the title was disallowed, in a writ proceeding, because a voter might think he was the incumbent Los Angeles County prosecutor—that is, the district attorney. Four years later, Hammock noted, an admiralty lawyer who served as a volunteer prosecutor in the City Attorney’s Office, as a trainee, was allowed by a different judge to use “the exact same designation” of “Los Angeles Prosecutor, “commenting:
“Different judge, different result.”
Hammock said this points to the need for an “objective standard that’s fair.”
Inadequately Trained Judges
Sen Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, the member of the committee who voted against the bill, said the decision allowing the admiralty lawyer to run as a prosecutor was “outrageous,” declaring:
“That judge should be reprimanded for that decision, in my opinion. It’s just nonsense.”
(That judge was Luis Lavin, now a member of the Court of Appeal. The candidate was B. Otis Felder, who failed to make it into the run-off.)
Anderson insisted that “the judges who hear these cases should be better trained” and decried the notion that “we now have to make laws because judges can’t make prudent decisions.”
Political consultant Bradley Hertz spoke against the bill, arguing that it would unfairly deprive government attorneys of equal protection by targeting only their ballot designations.
Sen.Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, also testified. Hertzberg is a member both of that committee—and voted in favor of the bill—and the Judiciary Committee, which will consider it next week.
After disclosing that Hertz is his personal attorney, the senator asked Allen:
“Aren’t we really putting the thumb on the scale in favor of incumbent judges?”
The bill’s author responded that the deception in ballot designations is now “out of control,” and that the title of “Deputy District Attorney is not something that’s going to be frowned on by voters.”
Hammock, in rebuttal, pointed out that since unification of the trial courts in Los Angeles in 2000, approximately 1,250 judges have been up for election, a mere 16 were challenged, and only two were defeated.
Judge Dzintra Janavs was defeated in 2006 based on her foreign-sounding name and in 2014, veteran Judge James Pierce lost to Carol Najera, running as a “Violent Crimes Prosecutor.”
(If SB235 had been in effect, Najera would have been compelled to run as “County of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney.”)
Hammock said that judges have “the safest job in the world,” rarely being challenged and winning nearly every time they are.
He said he is not seeking to protect judges, advising:
“We don’t need the protection. The public needs the protection.”
Also speaking in favor of the bill, briefly, were Larry Doyle, lobbyist for the CCBA, and Mike Belote, lobbyist for the CJA.
The chair of the committee, Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, said there is a need to “sober up the judicial election process,” and indicated that he would “love” to be listed as co-author of the bill.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company